No faith

If you are disillusioned by New Labour’s appalling policy on faith schools, I’m afraid the other parties don’t scrub up any better:

Michael Howard: “It is therefore incumbent upon all politicians to acknowledge the legitimacy of our faith communities and listen to and respect this ‘forgotten majority’,” he said.

He promised to remove “bureaucratic blocks” for their faith groups’ community work.

A Tory government would also tackle late payments from government to charities and encourage more faith schools to be set up, he added.

“Forgotten majority”? Bureaucratic blocks? What with the current level of government support for sectarian education and other ‘faith initiatives’?

The Lib Dems are slightly better, in at least recognising some of the problems associated with faith schools, but at the end of the day they are on board. Here is Phil Willis MP Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills

We have no proposals whatsoever to close Church schools or to prevent the establishment of others – indeed it is a Liberal Democrat Council in Islington that has jointly sponsored the St Mary Magdalene Academy, the first Church of England Academy in the country.

And with our leader in the Commons Charles Kennedy and former leader in the Lords Shirley Williams both Catholics – such claims are way off the mark.

Of course like all political parties we are a ‘broad church’.

There are those who question whether as a nation it would be better to separate church from state in education as occurs in the USA or France – I do not.

As I said in my speech to the Party Conference in 2002 – “we are where we are and we must build on success not seek to destroy it.”

It may be an historic accident that our education system has grown round a partnership between church and state, but it has served us well.

…..As a nation we cannot ignore the increasing tendency to polarise ethnic and cultural groups around religion or faith. The growth of Islamophobia, the rise in anti- Semitism and the all too frequent ghettoization of immigrant groups in our urban areas should concern us all. Though to blame these occurrences on Church Schools is clearly absurd.

Of course, it would be unacceptable to deny Muslims or other faiths the same opportunities to operate schools as Catholics, the Church of England, Jews or indeed other Christian denominations, which is why the Liberal Democrats supported the right of other faiths to operate schools in the School Standards and Framework Act. However, in so doing the challenge to us all is to promote co-operation, understanding, joint working and other arrangements that will help bridge divides without losing the inherent importance of individual faiths or ethos.

By the way, it was the Lib Dem website that chose to put that section in bold.

I share the views of Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society “Religious Education, as presently formulated in this country, encourages children to embrace sectarianism – to believe that whatever the school’s ‘religious ethos’ happens to be is the truth – and by extension that other religions are untrue. The Government’s latest affirmation of its commitment to this chauvinistic style of religious education is truly tragic. It’s a recipe for further separation and misunderstanding.”